Banks are increasingly competing with life insurance companies by selling individual life policies through their branch networks, according to recent figures. The Hong Kong Federation of Insurers reported the top three sellers of new individual life policies last year were insurance giants American International Assurance (AIA), Manulife and Prudential. However, banks made bigger inroads with Hang Seng Bank and HSBC becoming the fourth and fifth-biggest sellers of new life policies. The major banks have beaten many traditional big insurance players such as AXA China Region and Pacific Century Insurance. In terms of market share, AIA remained No 1 with HK$1.76 billion in premium income, more than double that of Manulife (HK$821 million). Third-ranked Prudential had HK$777 million. Hang Seng Bank sold new life policies worth HK$684 million, and parent HSBC sold HK$668 million. The two banks have seen dramatic growth in premium income. Premiums generated by HSBC last year represented a 164 per cent increase on 2000. Hang Seng saw its premium income surge 94 per cent compared with the preceding year. Prudential had premium growth of 52 per cent. Manulife and AIA had 4 per cent and 7 per cent growth, respectively. The slow growth of AIA and Manulife could be attributed to a larger comparison base, but the banks' selling efforts undoubtedly brought pressure upon the insurers' numbers, according to analysts. Ann Pearce, HSBC's head of insurance products and personal financial services, said it proved bank assurance - under which banks used their branch network to sell insurance products - was an increasingly appropriate model. 'Our customers are now more aware of the fact that HSBC is a major insurance provider and is not just a bank,' she said. Bank assurance has been popular in many overseas markets, but in Hong Kong, insurance agents have been the main sales force in the market. AIA has topped the sales charts in the life insurance market for decades. It has a sales team of about 7,500 agents. Manulife has the second-largest team of about 3,000 agents. Recently, HSBC and Hang Seng have stepped up their efforts to sell insurance policies to boost fee income. HSBC has the largest branch network with more than 200 branches. Hang Seng Bank has about 140 branches. 'Bank customers now want one-stop financial services, so we are selling them insurance policies, unit trusts and other financial services,' Ms Pearce said.